Almost every well-known artist has an album tucked away in their catalogue that doesn’t quite receive its due credit. This can happen for a variety of reasons: it might be overshadowed by the album that was released before or after it, it may have been unfairly panned upon release and never quite escaped that bad word of mouth, and on and on through any number of possible bad breaks.
Here are 20 albums that deserve a better rep than what they’ve got. For the sake of brevity, I’ve only included musicians well-known enough that my grandma might have a good chance of recognizing the names.
And away we go:
Rolling Stones * Steel Wheels
Why it gets shorted: Most of their 80’s material blows. This album also marked a comeback for them that was met with a steady stream of ‘Steel Wheelchair’ jokes.
What’s great about it: The Mick & Keith ballads are each great. Easy to forget how good this album sounds because it hardly ever gets play.
Better than: Black & Blue, by a longshot, in my estimation.
Led Zeppelin * Presence
Why it gets shorted: Lack of an instantly recognizable single in the mode of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ or ‘Kashmir’.
What’s great about it: See above. ‘Royal Orleans’ ‘Hots On For Nowhere’ and ‘Tea For One’ are as good as Zep gets, but many people aren’t familiar with these nuggets.
Better than: III
Bob Dylan * Oh Mercy
Why it gets shorted: Over-focus on Dylan’s trilogy of late great 90’s/00’s albums.
What’s great about it: First rate production. Killer songs. What’s not great about it??
Better than: Love & Death, by a country mile.
ZZ Top * ZZ Top’s First Album
Why it gets shorted: Their MTV videos featuring leggy models and hot rods are ingrained in the public imagination, and the only frame of reference most people have of this band.
What’s great about it: Full-on Blues from the word go. Great batch of songs.
Better than: Anything else they did, save Deguello and Tres Hombres.
Iggy Pop & James Williamson * Kill City
Why it gets shorted: Blotted out by The Stooges’ very long shadow. Iggy’s inconsistent solo career is maddeningly difficult for even the most diehard fan to hack through.
What’s great about it: Title track is upper-echelon Ig. James Williamson’s guitar playing is fierce. Much more loose and unfinished than even The Stooges rawest stuff.
Better than: All of Iggy’s solo albums except The Idiot and Lust For Life.
The Beatles * Beatles For Sale
Why it gets shorted: Most sensible people prefer their early Beatles in compilation form.
What’s great about it: A true rock-n-roll album in the 50’s sense of the term. Probably the best example of the music that the group played during their Liverpool/Hamburg days.
Better than: Let It Be, Rubber Soul, and on a good day, Sgt Pepper’s.
Jimi Hendrix * Nine To The Universe
Why it gets shorted: Too many questionable posthumous releases. ‘Jam’ album that is short on song structure and lyrics and long on guitar noodling and improv.
What’s great about it: Jimi Hendrix and friends jamming in a studio after hours. Enough said.
Better than: Cry Of Love, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, Voodoo Soup, and any of the other albums that try to piece together Jimi’s final recordings.
Funkadelic * America Eats Its Young
Why it gets shorted: The P-Funk empire is a long and winding road. This album lacks any greatest hits.
What’s great about it: Scathing indictment of 70’s America that rings more true today than it possibly could have upon release. Still somehow retains P-Funk party vibe.
Better than: All P-Funk is equally super-awesome!
Joe Walsh * So What
Why it gets shorted: Walsh’s tenure in the Eagles has overshadowed his estimable solo career and work with the James Gang.
What’s great about it: Perfect time capsule album from the 70’s. ‘Welcome To The Club’ is one of the best songs from that decade that you’ve never heard.
Better than: Any of that Eagles crap.
AC/DC * Powerage
Why it gets shorted: Most people don’t recognize that this was a pretty different band before Bon Scott died. Dirty Deeds and Highway To Hell have cooler names.
What’s great about it: ‘Rock & Roll Damnation’ and ‘Gone Shootin’ rock hard. It’s just a step below their strongest work.
Better than: Anything after Bon Scott’s death, except for Back In Black.
Van Halen * Van Halen II
Why it gets shorted: Not quite as good as their self-titled debut. Ridiculously short running time that simply wouldn’t fly in the compact disc era.
What’s great about it: It’s early Van Halen and it rocks. ‘Women In Love’ is one of their best songs.
Better than: Anything post-David Lee Roth, by a long shot.
The Doors * American Prayer
Why it gets shorted: Band recorded instrumental pieces to go with Morrison’s spoken word poems/rants after the singer had died. Also, most of his written poetry is pretty shitty.
What’s great about it: The Lizard King was an over-the-top performer and these spoken pieces capture the bombastic side of his legend. And the instrumental stuff added by the band is actually pretty good. ‘Ghost Song’ ‘Stoned Immaculate’ and ‘The Movie’ deserve ‘best-of’ status.
Better than: The Soft Parade (which isn’t saying much), any of Morrison’s written poetry.
The Clash * Sandinista!
Why it gets shorted: It’s a sprawling, triple album mess.
What’s great about it: Contains several of the group’s finest moments – a bunch of which have never been anthologized. ‘One More Time’ and the Mikey Dread flavored ‘One More Time Dub’ are particular highlights, and ‘The Magnificent Seven’ is one of their finest songs, period.
Better than: Combat Rock
Neil Young * On The Beach
Why it gets shorted: Album inexplicably was not printed on compact disc until 2003 and faded from public memory.
What’s great about it: Another scathing indictment of the Nixon/’Nam era US that still sounds relevant and right on. ‘Revolution Blues’ and the title track are among Neil’s finest moments.
Better than: Tonight’s The Night, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Fleetwood Mac * Then Play On
Why it gets shorted: One word – Rumours.
What’s great about it: Best example of Peter Green era Mac. Dreamscape/Western quality sounds like Calexico 30 years before the fact.
Better than: Anything else in the Fleetwood Mac catalogue, in my opinion.
White Stripes * White Stripes
Why it gets shorted: Better was to come. Much more Blues-based than their subsequent albums. Group didn’t start gaining traction in public conciousness until DeStijl and White Blood Cells.
What’s great about it: Much more Blues-based than subsequent albums. Cover of ‘John The Revelator’ is breathtaking. First hint that Jack White had serious guitar skills.
Better than: Nearly all of the British Blues of the 60’s and 70’s.
The Byrds * Untitled
Why it gets shorted: Post David Crosby and Gram Parsons version of the band lacked the star power and hit singles of earlier incarnations.
What’s great about it: Album side ‘Eight Miles High’ absolutely cooks. All of the live material is hot, and side one is especially blistering with a great ‘Lover On The Bayou’.
Better than: Anything else the group did besides Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and Notorious Byrd Brothers.
Pink Floyd * Meddle
Why it gets shorted: Sounds like it was recorded approximately 25 years before Dark Side Of The Moon (it was actually just 2 years prior). Opens with 25-minute long ‘Echoes’.
What’s great about it: Last link to the Syd Barrett era Floyd, if only in sound. ‘Echoes’ is an epic journey.
Better than: The Final Cut
INXS * Shabooh Shoobah
Why it gets shorted: This album, along with The Swing, and Listen Like Thieves, gets lost in the mighty shadow of Kick.
What’s great about it: Moody, atmospheric pop that has a dark edge of sophisticated ennui. One of the great ‘lost’ albums of the 80’s.
Better than: Most of the garbage that was in regular rotation on MTV at the time.
Prince * Around The World In A Day
Why it gets shorted: Prince was just too good during the 80’s. Impossible for almost anything to stand up to 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign O’ The Times.
What’s great about it: Psychedelic-Pop masterpiece that sounds like music the Beatles would have made if they’d worked for Motown.
Better than: Anything released after Sign O’ The Times.
Read the second part of this post here.